Rally Japan: Post-event press conference

PIONEER CARROZZERIA RALLY JAPAN 2 November 2008 Present: 1st - Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 1st - Jarmo Lehtinen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 2nd - Jari-Matti Latvala, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 2nd - Miikka...

2 November 2008

1st - Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
1st - Jarmo Lehtinen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
2nd - Jari-Matti Latvala, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
2nd - Miikka Antilla, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
3rd - Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
3rd - Daniel Elena, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson, Team Principal, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team

Welcome to the post event FIA Press Conference.

Q: Congratulations on a very confident win here in Japan. The Drivers' Championship is now over though - mixed emotions for you?

MH: Yes it is. I'm really happy we won here again and we did it like last year. That's what we came here for. That was our plan. We needed the win, but then Sebastien did exactly what he needed to as well. That fight is over. His fifth title is quite incredible. It's over now. Hopefully we can try again next year.

Q: We have seen tricky conditions in Japan, especially today with the weather. Has it been one of the toughest?

MH: It's been one of the most nerve-wracking rallies in a long, long time. The conditions were so difficult. Friday was good, we had good times and comfortable speed. But you never know what speed these guys are doing. When I backed off, they came close straight away, so I had to go flat-out again. This was a new place, the nature of the stages was new, they were a little bit soft maybe, but they were good.

Q: You saw your lead slashed by your team-mate today after the first group of stages. How much pressure did you feel from Jari-Matti?

MH: You can't tell how fast he's going to come, so I went flat through the second time and hoped it would work. And it worked, we got the result we needed for Ford here.

Q: The title race this year has been predominantly between two drivers; you and Sebastien; it must be good to know that it was you that was the closest to the most successful World Champion the WRC has ever seen?

MH: It's maybe something. Look at the result, he won 10 events and I was relying on my consistency. It did get better in the second half of the season, but we couldn't really be there. We're going to be there next year and have a very good fight for the Championship next year.

Q: It's a fight to the finish for the Manufacturers' title on Wales Rally GB; it will be important to repeat this result for the team...

MH: Our car works well in those conditions. We won there last year. There are some new stages. It's going to be really exciting. I hope we can stop Sebastien on something.

Q: We should talk to Jarmo; this is about team-work isn't it?

MH: Yes, talk to him; he has punctures as well you know!

JL: You're right, it's team-work. We have seen this many times this year. I don't want to put us on a higher step than we belong, but it is hard work and it's nice to sit and be friends with the five-time World Champion next to me.

Q: It must be good to get back onto the top step of the podium for the first time since Turkey?

JL: Yes. We've been having punctures since then! We needed the win and the one-two for Ford to keep the Championship alive. Sebastien did his, though, so that one's over. Leading the rally from the start was nice.

Q: Jari-Matti, second position and your first podium since the Rally of Turkey. It's been a while, must be good to be back?

J-ML: It's great to be back. Mentally, I have been really low after the crashes in August. Catalunya and Corsica were good and now being back in the factory team is nice. It's really good to be back.

Q: Where exactly is your confidence level now?

J-ML: It's the same level as Turkey. The level was good in Finland, but then it went wrong. It's been a year, one where I've learned a lot of new things. I hope this makes me stronger.

Q: It's been a good run through this event and you seemed to be putting pressure on Mikko earlier, bringing his lead down to 4.9 seconds at one point. Was your plan to try and catch him today?

J-ML: No. The plan wasn't try to catch Mikko. Basically, a little bit happened, how I say? The long stage, it was raining a lot. Mikko was first on the road with a lot of water in the ruts. Mikko cleaned the water from the ruts, it was easier for me. But that's how I got close to Mikko.

Q: The Drivers' title is now decided, leaving the fight for a win in GB open to all. Is the plan to go there and get your second win of the season?

J-ML: Yeah. Today I was actually saying when we were getting closer to Mikko, 'I really have the big passion for winning'. It came to my heart when I pushed Mikko. We had a small discussion in the service park and I realised this is not my time. Wales is always one of the best rallies for me. Only in 2005 we had a withdrawal, otherwise it's a great rally. Mikko won there last year. Mikko is very strong in these conditions. I would expect Sebastien, Petter (Solberg) going fast, and maybe Chris (Atkinson). Once again, you need to start flat out if you want to win.

Q: It's been a tough couple of rallies on gravel for you and Jari-Matti, but you've really bounced back on this one -- how was Jari-Matti's performance from your perspective?

MA: Yeah, I think he's back at his natural speed. I never lost confidence in his speed and talent. When you do 15 rallies this year, there are ups and downs. There might be some bad results, also some good results. We have Rally GB soon and I'm quite confident we can do the same as this rally, maybe even better. We'll see.

Q: The event has been in a new location this year. What have you thought of the stages here?

MA: I wouldn't say I enjoyed the stages more than Obihiro. All in all it ran quite well first time here. I would say it's not good for the road section timing -- it's not good to be speeding on the road. I won't give high marks for that. It's not mine to think about the safety, there was a bad accident on Friday. If there is anything we can do to avoid it -- I wish this thing is looked at.

Q: Sebastien, congratulations on sealing your fifth world title (subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA). No other driver in the history of the WRC has won five times; it's another record to add to an already impressive list of achievements in your career. How are you feeling right now?

SL: For sure, I feel really, really happy. For me it's two important records in the sport: the number of victories and the number of titles. Now we have both. I feel very relieved. It was a really tough rally. The rally was really difficult. I couldn't get in the rhythm. The only thing I had in my mind was no mistake. It wasn't easy to keep the car on the road in these conditions. It was a big pressure. I feel more relaxed now. Five titles in a row proves my team is very strong. I have a car for the win nearly every time since I started my career. It's not only me; it's the whole team that have won this.

Q: You have won your five Championships with Citroen; the drivers accolade is for you alone but rallying is very much a team effort isn't it?

SL: Yes. Exactly what I said. Now I work with Citroen since maybe seven years. So we are used to work together. The new car is developed around my style. I did all the tests for this car. It suits me very well. It's very rare that we have mechanical problem -- that's thanks to my team.

Q: Are you still as passionate about rallying now as when you sealed your first world title?

SL: Yes, for sure. It's always very exciting to lead in the stages and fight for victory. For sure all the things around you get boring a bit -- the planes and the long trips. It takes a long time and I'm never at home. I have a daughter and sometimes it's nice to go home... but sure I like to fight and this is what makes my motivation.

Q: You wanted to tie the Championship up here so that you could go to Wales Rally GB, one of the few events you have not won, and push for victory. But there is also the Manufacturers' Championship to consider...

SL: I expect to be Champion here and to be released and more relaxed for Wales. We have the Manufacturer pressure now. We will see. For sure I would like to win this rally one day; for sure it's tricky and the conditions are always tough.

Q: Five Championships is a brand new world record -- will you be back to defend that title next year?

SL: I hope so, also. Next year I will be back with Citroen again. For sure I cannot have another objective but to win the sixth title. I will try.

Q: Daniel, another incredible season together and it's World Championship win number five. What does it mean to you?

DE: I am happy too. At the start of the year, everybody said it was easy -- then after Sweden, they said: "Ah, maybe not so easy." Then after Jordan, they said again: "Ah, maybe it's really not so easy." It hasn't been easy to finish third here. It's not the same when you are used to having the motivation for victory and then you have to take third. I am very happy.

Q: It's been 10 years since you first partnered Sebastien as his co-driver. Did you ever imagine back then that you would both achieve so much in your careers?

DE: When I start I don't think that. I think more party! When I start with Sebastien I start in national rallies. I enjoy, this is my passion and to finish with five titles is more than the dream. It's incredible.

Q: It was important to get maximum points here. The title fight for the Drivers' Championship is over but the Manufacturers is still alive...

MW: It's been a dream result for the team. We couldn't have asked for anything more, except maybe the Drivers' title going to the wire. If we could get exactly the same result on the next event, we would get the crown again. Rally GB is a difficult rally in difficult conditions. I'm really pleased to hear Sebastien doesn't like these conditions. Let's wait for December and pray for some nice weather for Sebastien.

Q: It's been a tough event for many reasons, the accident on Friday with Francois Duval and Patrick Pivato brought concern from the whole service park. What is the latest news on Patrick's condition?

MW: I'm really pleased to report he had a much better night last night. He's still critical and in an induced coma. They'll do an operation tomorrow to remove the packs from his stomach. On Thursday they'll do a fixation operation on the leg and pelvis. When you think back to the position we were in on Friday night, it's a great relief to everybody that he's making the progress he's making. He's not out of the woods yet, but it's great to see the progress he's making.

Q: You've had a lot of support from the rest of the WRC. Can you tell us about that?

MW: I would be here for a long time if I were to mention everybody by name that has helped. Everybody has really pulled together to help in this really difficult situation on Friday night. That goes to everybody: all the teams and the organiser of this rally. The medical people were there to take control within 10 minutes of the accident. The crews did a great job to get the car to the position where he could be extricated. I believe he's been in great hands in the hospital. I can't express my thanks enough to these people who have worked to help Patrick not spend too much time in Japan.


1st -- Juho Hanninen
1st -- Mikko Markkula

Q: Congratulations Juho, winning the event on the final stage -- what an event it has been for you!

JH: Yes. Thank you. As you said, before the last stage I was second and Toshi (Arai) was behind me. I was happy with that situation. I kept Toshi behind in the last stage, but then when I'd finished I realised I had won after Novikov had problems.

Q: On Friday you weren't on the pace and finished the day ninth, what was the problem on the opening day?

JH: Nothing special. Already on the recce I had decided to take the Friday stages carefully, they were difficult. But I was surprised how far away I was. I was confident on Saturday and Sunday, they were much better.

Q: Did you change the car much?

JH: I didn't change anything with the car. I decided before the rally, Saturday morning I will start (to push).

Q: Just nine seconds covered the top three drivers; it was very competitive at the top of the leaderboard wasn't it?

JH: It was tough for the whole weekend. Yes, nine seconds are very equal. We had some technical problems, but a very good battle with Toshi.

Q: You take maximum points here which puts you ahead of Aigner in the Championship going into the final round -- you don't need to win there, what will be the approach?

JH: I don't know yet, I haven't thought so much. Of course Aigner's speed over there... I have been two times in GB and I like it very much. I need to push maximum.

Q: It's been a good year...

JH: Yes. We have won three times and then had a technical problem in Greece and my mistake in New Zealand, otherwise a good season.

Q: Do you have anything sorted for next year?

JH: No, no, no. We'll see. I hope after GB we will see.

Q: Mikko, congratulations on the win. You finished and didn't realise you had won, what was your feeling when you found out?

MM: I think your colleague was the first who told us what really happened. Of course, it's a great feeling. I expected second, this was a big bonus.

Q: That's helped for the Championship.

MM: Yes. Now it's two points easier in Wales.

Q: What have you thought of the stages here in Sapporo?

MM: This was one of the toughest, if not the toughest I have seen. I am more than happy to finish this rally. Like I said, this is a big bonus.

-credit: fia

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team